Washington, D.C.—A number of chain pharmacies are participating in a new Medicare initiative that will cover up to eight OTC COVID-19 tests each calendar month, at no cost to the beneficiaries.

"With today's announcement, we are expanding access to free over-the-counter COVID-19 testing for people with Medicare Part B, including those enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan," stated Xavier Becerra, secretary of the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS). "People with Medicare Part B will now have access to up to eight FDA-approved, authorized or cleared over-the-counter COVID-19 tests per month at no cost. This is all part of our overall strategy to ramp-up access to easy-to-use, at-home tests free of charge."

The HHS said this is the first time that Medicare has covered an OTC self-administered test at no cost to beneficiaries. Under the initiative, Medicare will directly pay participating pharmacies and other healthcare providers.

According to a press release, national pharmacy and grocery chains participating in the initiative, so far, include Albertsons Companies, Inc., Costco Pharmacy, CVS, Food Lion, Giant Food, The Giant Company, Hannaford Pharmacies, H-E-B Pharmacy, Hy-Vee Pharmacy, Kroger Family of Pharmacies, Rite Aid Corporation, Shop & Stop, Walgreens, and Walmart. Updated lists will be available at https://www.medicare.gov/medicare-coronavirus.

Medicare beneficiaries are eligible if they have Part B, including those enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan. For those in the Medicare Advantage plan, the tests are reimbursed outside of their existing plan's coverage and in addition to any OTC tests that might be covered under the plan as a supplemental benefit.

Pharmacists should know that Medicare will not cover OTC COVID-19 tests for those who only have Medicare Part A coverage, although free tests are available through other programs.

The initiative began on April 4, 2022, and will continue until the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE) ends. "People with Medicare Part B can get up to eight free over-the-counter tests for the month of April any time before April 30 and can then get another set of eight free over-the-counter tests during each subsequent calendar month through the end of the COVID-19 PHE," according to the HHS.

The eligibility period is by calendar month, it added.

Those seeking the tests are urged to bring their Medicare cards, but the HHS stated that pharmacies will have alternate ways to get the information it needs for billing purposes.

It noted that beneficiaries can get free OTC COVID-19 tests from any eligible pharmacy or healthcare provider that voluntarily participates in this initiative, even if they are not current customers or patients. The announcement cautioned, however, that any tests over eight per month are not covered by Medicare but might be by supplemental insurance policies.

Tests purchased prior to April 4, 2022, will not be reimbursed.

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